Representative of things, feelings or ideas (kisses, special food, “inside” jokes/teasing)
These symbols must be mutually understood for the meanings to be shared.
Let’s Break it Down Further…
Communication is transactional : this means that when people communicate, they have a mutual impact on each other.
In a relationship, a person is both affected, and being affected by the other person simultaneously.
Communication is a transactional process : this simply means that it is constantly changing .
Communication is not static.
Communication develops over time.
Let’s Break it Down – Another Level…
This process involves creating and sharing of meanings.
Meanings: visions of the social and physical reality as well as values, beliefs and attitudes.
Communication involves the negotiation of shared meanings. Without shared meanings, confusion and misunderstanding will most likely occur.
Meanings and Messages
One of the primary tasks of families is “meaning making.” This serves to create a relational or “world-view” that characterizes the family system as a whole.
What characterizes your family system? Are these shared meanings? How were these shared/agreed upon within your family?
Development of Meanings
Your views of the world are a result of your perceptual filter systems .
Each person has lenses (filters). This is how s/he views the world. It is based on things like age, race, gender, religion, culture, family order, family history.
Meanings emerge as information passes through a person’s filter system.
Your Filter Systems
First Set: Human Sensory Systems
Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste and Smell
Next Set: Individual Social System
The way a person uses language; his/her accepted way of viewing things; cultural and class status
Your Filter Systems
Third Set A person shares common meanings with those around him/her.
Development of Meanings
While culture affects perceptions and meanings, the immediate groups to which one belongs exert a strong influence on the individual’s perceptual set (filters).
In addition, specific constraints and experiences can influence a person’s meaning.
For example: siblings can experience family life very differently (based on specific events and people).
Communicating about communication!
In families, allows for members to state their needs, clarify any confusion and plan new and more constructive ways of relating to one another.
Communication Patterns/Family Functions
Each family has its own unique communication patterns.
Everyday ways of living
How decisions are made
How feelings are shared
How conflict is handled
In other words, communication provides form and content to a family’s life
A Family’s Collective Identity
A family’s collective identity is made up of 2 primary family functions and 4 supporting functions that affect (and are affected by) its communication.
A Family’s Collective Identity
2 Primary Functions:
4 Supporting Functions:
Establish a satisfactory congruence of images.
Evolve models of interaction into central family themes.
Establish the boundaries of the family’s world experience
Deal with significant biosocial issues of family life, such as gender, age, power and roles.
The emotional bonding that family members have towards one another.
Includes concepts of:
4 Levels of Cohesion
There are 4 levels of cohesion: (Carnes, 1989)
Disengaged: family members maintain extreme separateness and little family loyalty .
Separated: family members experience emotional independence with some joint involvement .
Connected: family members strive for emotional closeness, loyalty , and joint involvement with some individuality .
Enmeshed: family members experience extreme closeness, loyalty and almost no individuality .
Through communication, family members are able to develop and maintain or change their patterns of cohesion.
There are widely varying cultural norms for moderate or extremes of cohesion.
Disengaged Enmeshed Families Cohesion Families Low High
Family Adaptability (Flexibility)
The amount of change in a family’s leadership, role relationships and relations by rules.
How family systems manage stability and change.
4 Levels of Adaptability
There are four levels of adaptability (change):
Rigid: family members operate under autocratic decision-making styles and strict roles and rules .
Structured: family members experience authoritarian and some equalitarian leadership and stable roles and rules .
Flexible: family members experience negotiation and decision-making and easily changes roles and rules.
Chaotic: family members have nonexistent leadership, confused decision-making and varied rules and roles.
Each human system has both stability-promoting processes and change-promoting processes.
Rigid Chaotic Families Adaptability Families Low High
Family systems constantly restructure themselves as they pass through predictable developmental stages.
Examples: getting married, having children, “launching” children, retirement, etc
Through communication, families make it clear to their members how much adaptation (change) is allowed, while regulating the adaptive behaviors of their members and the system as a whole.
When there is a balance between change & stability within families, there will be:
Shared leadership * Successful negotiation
Open rule making/sharing * Role sharing
Family Cohesion-Adaptability Axes
Cohesion and adaptability combine to create the 2 major functions that family members continuously manage.
Low Enmeshed High Low High Cohesion Chaotic Disengaged Disengaged Cohesion
Cohesion & Adaptability
Most well-functioning families are found short of the extremes, except when they are under high levels of stress.
Families shift from one point to another on the axis during different stages of development.
4 Supporting Functions
In addition to the primary functions of cohesion and adaptability, there are additional family functions (supporting functions) that help when understanding family interaction.
1. Family Images
Family images are often metaphors for the family.
An image of one’s family embodies what is expected from it, what is given to it, and how important it is.
Female Metaphors: emphasize team/group, nature and healing/nourishment.
Male Metaphors: emphasize nature, particularly animals and foundational things such as brick walls or concrete structures.
“ My family is a team…”
“…with my dad as a player coach. We all work together for the survival of our team, and we all contribute. Each one of us has strengths and weaknesses, yet there is always that force driving us to achieve more together. As the player-coach, my dad as the responsibility of overseeing our performances.”
“ My family lives inside a medicine chest.”
“ Dad is the super-size bandaid – strong & powerful - but not always effective in a crisis. Mom is the middle-size tweezer, which picks and pokes and pinches. David is the single small aspirin on the third shelf, sometimes ignored. Muffin , the sheep dog, is a round cotton ball, stained and dirty, that pops off the shelf and bounces in my way as I open the door. And I am the wood and glue which hold us all together with my love.”
“ Fifth of July”
My family is an expired firecracker set off by the blowtorch of divorce. We lay scattered in many directions. My father is the wick, badly burnt but still glowing softly. My mother is the blackened paper fluttering down, blowing this way and that, unsure where to land. My sister is the fallen, colorful parachute, lying in a tangled knot, unable to see the beauty she holds. My brother is the fresh, untouched powder that was protected from the flame.
And I , I am the singed, outside papers, curled away from everything, silently cursing the blowtorch.
2. Family Themes
Family themes represent a fundamental view of reality and a way of dealing with this view.
Through its theme, a family responds to the questions:
Who are we?
What do we do about it?
How do we invest our energies?
2. Themes (continued)
Themes are directly related to family actions. One can “figure out” a family’s theme by simply watching its actions.
Family themes may be complex and subtle, and not obvious at first glance.
It is important to identify a family’s main theme(s) to fully understand the meanings and communication behavior of its members.
All families establish some boundaries as they restrict their members from encountering certain physical and psychological forces.
Most often, family boundaries regulate access to people, places, ideas and values.
3. Boundaries (continued)
Some family boundaries are highly permeable (or flexible) and allow movement across them. Others resist movement and are rigid and inflexible.
External Boundaries: distinguish members from the rest of the world
Internal Boundaries: keep family members appropriately in relationship to one another.
4. Biosocial Issues
Families have several biosocial issues:
Male & female identity
Authority & power
Shaping and influencing children
The development of images, themes, boundaries and responses to these biosocial issues interacts with the functions of cohesion & adaptability.
Family of Origin Influences
Family of origin refers to the family (or families) in which a person is raised
Is generally thought to be the earliest and most powerful source of influence on one’s personality
Can be depicted (and understood) through the use of genograms.
Family of Origin = Blueprint
Families of origin provide blueprints for the communication of future generations.
Families are Like Snowflakes…
“When you think about it, family life is extremely complex and most of us just go through the motions everyday without any reflection. I usually take for granted that most families are similar to mine. However, the more I look carefully at other family systems, the more aware I am of the differences. Perhaps families are like snowflakes, no two are ever exactly alike.”